Elon Musk, management guru? – The New York Times


It might seem obvious to most people outside of Silicon Valley that Elon Musk’s ownership of Twitter was an absolute disaster.

In less than two months since taking office, Mr. Musk has fired more than half of Twitter’s staff, scared off many of its key advertisers, made (and undone) a series of ill-advised changes to its verification program, provoked the wrath of regulators and politicians. with erratic and offensive tweets, declared a short-lived war on Apple, greenlighted a bizarre expose on the “Twitter Files”, stopped paying rent for Twitter’s offices, and falsely accused the former corporate trust and safety officer of supporting pedophilia. His personal fortune shrunk by billions of dollars and he was booed at a Dave Chappelle performance.

It is not, in almost every way, going well for him. And yet one group is still firmly in Mr. Musk’s corner: the bosses.

In recent weeks, many tech executives, founders and investors have expressed their admiration for Mr. Musk, even as the billionaire struggled on Twitter.

Reed Hastings, Netflix’s chief executive, praised Mr Musk at a New York Times DealBook conference late last month, calling him “the bravest, most creative person on the planet. “.

Gavin Baker, a private equity investor, recently claimed that many venture capitalist-backed CEOs were “inspired by Elon”.

And several partners of Andreessen Horowitz, the influential venture capital firm, tweeted similar cost to Mr. Musk’s management style.

Part of the cheerleading elite probably boils down to class solidarity or simple financial interest. (Andreessen Horowitz, for example, invested $400 million in Mr. Musk’s takeover of Twitter.) And some of it may reflect the remaining goodwill from Mr. Musk’s successes at Tesla and SpaceX.

But as I’ve called C-suite executives and influential Silicon Valley investors over the past few weeks, I’ve been surprised at how many people support Mr. Musk — even if they won’t admit it. not publicly.

Mr. Musk’s defenders point out that Twitter did not collapse or go offline despite the loss of thousands of employees, as some critics had predicted. They see his harsh management style as a necessary corrective, and they believe he will ultimately be rewarded for cutting costs and laying down the law.

“He says the things that many CEOs wish they could say, and then he actually does them,” said Roy Bahat, a venture capitalist at Bloomberg Beta.

Mr Bahat, who has criticized some of Mr Musk’s moves, called his tenure on Twitter a “living natural experiment” – a divisive but illuminating window into what other leaders might get away with if they were trying.

“It gives people a lot more knowledge about what’s possible,” he said.

The tech elites don’t just support Mr. Musk because they like him personally or because they agree with his anti-reawakening political crusades. (Although a number do.)

Kevin Roose and Casey Newton are the hosts of Hard Fork, a podcast that makes sense of the rapidly changing world of technology. Subscribe and listen.

Rather, they see him as the standard-bearer of an emerging worldview that they hope to see more widely held in Silicon Valley.

Writer John Ganz has called this worldview “bossism” – a belief that the people who build and run big tech companies have ceded too much power to the authorized, lazy, over-awakened people who work for them and have to start picking it up.

In Mr. Ganz’s account, Silicon Valley’s main proponents of patronage – including Mr. Musk and financiers Marc Andreessen and Peter Thiel – seize the opportunity to pull the culture of the tech industry sharply to the right, dragging left-wing workers and worker sympathizers down. sting while reinstating themselves and their fellow bosses to their rightful places atop the totem.

Some Musk sympathizers see things in such austere and politicized terms. Crypto writer and founder Antonio García Martínez, for example, has greeted Mr. Musk’s takeover of Twitter as “a revolt of entrepreneurial capital” against the “ESG scammers” and “Skittles-haired people” who populate the grassroots at companies like Twitter.

But while some tech CEOs might blame a sleeper cell of gender studies majors for their troubles, many of Mr. Musk’s elite fans embrace a simpler, business school type of patronage. They admire him for ruling Twitter with an iron fist and taking the kind of actions tech executives have resisted for fear of alienating workers — cutting jobs, cutting benefits, punishing internal dissenters, resist diversity and inclusion efforts and force employees back to work. Office.

These bosses believe that over the past decade, a booming technology industry and a shortage of talent have forced many CEOs to make unreasonable concessions. They spoiled the workers with perks like lavish meals and unlimited kombucha. They agreed to use workplace chat apps like Slack, which flattened office hierarchies and gave junior workers a way to directly challenge leadership. They’ve bent over backwards to give in to workers’ demands — DEI workshops, flexible remote work policies, corporate wellness days — to keep them happy and prevent them from jumping ship for a competitor.

Then Elon Musk showed up on Twitter and refused to do anything. Instead of trying to ingratiate himself with Twitter employees, Mr Musk fired many of them and dared the rest to quit – forcing them to attest that they were “extremely tough” if they wanted to keep their jobs. He had done this before in his other businesses. But on Twitter, he did everything openly, using his Twitter account as a stick to keep workers in line.

Former Twitter executives, steeped in the conciliatory style of boom-time management, had enabled an atmosphere of open debate and discussion – one of the company’s core values ​​was “communicating fearlessly to build trust” – but Mr. Musk has replaced that with a culture of absolute loyalty. He disguised Twitter employees as public and fired anyone who dared to criticize him. He particularly disdained the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts — mocking an old “Stay Woke” t-shirt found in a Twitter closet and disbanding the company’s employee resource groups (including groups for Black, LGBTQ and female employees).

For many people, Mr. Musk’s moves looked like a case study in how not to run a business. But for some Silicon Valley elites, they were a flash — a long-awaited answer to the question, “What if we treat workers…worse?”

Bosses may not agree with every move Mr. Musk makes, but many of them think he’s right about the big picture. Tech companies are bloated and unproductive. Woke HR departments have gone too far. Workers should stop being activists and focus on their work.

Mr. Musk is not the first tech leader to voice these opinions. Companies like Coinbase, Kraken, and Basecamp have all attempted to limit employee activism in recent years, with questionable results. (More recently, Meta banned workers from discussing “disruptive” topics like abortion and gun rights on labor forums.)

What’s different now is the backdrop. For the first time in nearly two decades, economic pressures have slashed profits in the tech industry and companies that once spared no expense to keep workers happy are cutting their veils and laying off staff. Executives whose stock prices are crashing are declaring themselves “wartime CEOs” and workers who could have credibly threatened to leave their jobs for more comfortable employment a year ago are now suspended for life.

All this shifted the influence of the workers to the bosses.

“When a labor market loosens, management’s attention to employee desires – whether for workplace benefits or better DEI – may diminish, simply because they have less need to offer those things to recruit or retain,” said Margaret O’Mara, a history professor at the University of Washington who has written about Silicon Valley working-class culture.

In other words, Mr. Musk has picked the right time to start a management revolution. Now the question is: how many bosses will follow him into the fire?



Tech

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